High-school Testing Under Fire in Oregon
PORTLAND — When the Legislature isn't in session, State Rep. Jerry Krummel, R-Wilsonville, sometimes moonlights as a substitute teacher.
The gig has made him a fly-on-the-wall in teacher lounges, where he says he's heard an earful from teachers complaining about Oregon's high-school testing system, the Certificate of Initial Mastery, popularly known as the CIM.
The 14-year-old series of tests — which are designed to demonstrate that a student is working up to state goals in writing, reading and math — has been criticized by legislators and others, who say it is too cumbersome, too expensive to administer and too easy for students to skirt.
And this session is no exception: Legislators are faced with five bills that seek to abolish or suspend the CIM, and its cousin, the Certificate of Advanced Mastery, or CAM, designed to showcase a student's skill in college-preparatory work.
By next week, the Oregon Department of Education is scheduled to release new numbers on how many students earned a CIM in 2004. Early data show that the numbers are very similar to last year's, with only about 30 percent of students getting the CIM-certified diploma.
"Let's kill it, let's get rid of it," Krummel said. "It is a 14-year experiment that has not worked. Let's go to a reasonable assessment system, let's get teachers teaching instead of making sure kids have their work sample and worrying about other stuff."
According to an audit put together by the House Audits Committee, which Krummel heads, the state could save $38 million a year by eliminating the testing system entirely, and going with an off-the-rack test marketed by a national company, such as the well-known Iowa Test of Basic Skills.
But the certificate system has its defenders, too. At North Clackamas High School, passing a version of the CIM has become a requirement for graduation; other schools have given students incentives, such as parking spots or off-campus lunch passes, if they can successfully pass the CIM.
"People always want to point to different programs, or say the CIM costs us too much money," said Cindy Quintanilla, principal at Rex Putnam High School in the North Clackamas district. "But if not CIM then what will replace it?"
Gov. Ted Kulongoski, too, has backed a modest plan to dangle a CIM-related carrot, recommending that the state set aside $2 million for scholarship grants to needy students who have applied to Oregon universities and come equipped with a CIM diploma.
State education officials say they are willing to consider changes to the system, but are wary of potential costs. They're also stressing the need to maintain compliance with the federal No Child Left Behind education law, which mandates that public-school students be tested at least once in high school.
"We are getting more information from publishers about potential replacements in the testing system," said Pat Burk, the chief policy officer for the state Department of Education. "But simply buying an off-the-shelf test will not comply with the requirements of No Child Left Behind, nor will it provide the state with information specific to Oregon standards."
It also might not save the kind of money that Krummel and others claim, Burk said, when the costs of customizing the test to Oregon curriculums, plus the labor to print and distribute the tests, are factored in.
Still, the state isn't resisting making changes to the status quo, a subtle but significant shift from previous battles over CIM and CAM.
That's partly because the state wants to avoid embarrassments like the recent discovery that the math problem-solving test given to the state's 10th graders was faulty, and the results had to be thrown out.
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES